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The Bellingham Food Co-op (Buywell)


The Bellingham Food Co-op now operates from St Augustine's Primary School in Lewisham every Thursday afternoon during term-time, and has been set up to improve the availability and affordability of fruit and vegetables in the area, which has limited access to healthy food.



  • support local people to improve their diet and nutrition in practical ways, such as making fresh fruit and vegetables available to local people at convenient points of access and at affordable prices
  • give advice and encouragement about healthy eating behaviour.

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The South Bellingham ward has been identified as having high levels of deprivation, unemployment, poor health, teenage pregnancy and low levels of educational attainment and technical skills. It is within the top 10% of most deprived wards in the country.

Data from Lewisham Primary Care Trust shows a higher than average (both national and Lewisham) number of overweight and/or obese primary school aged children in Bellingham schools.

The Sage Educational Trust provides family support, family learning, adult learning, support for older people and health. Policy drivers behind the project were the Childhood Obesity Strategy, Lewisham PCT Food Strategy Group and the 5 a day programme. Health has always been a priority area for Sage and base on feedback from local children about how important they think it is, the charity has put in place funding for various health initiatives, aimed at getting children and families to become more active and eat more healthily.

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A questionnaire needs assessment was carried out both in local schools with parents and as part of the Bellingham festival day in June 2009. This highlighted the demand for a food co-op locally and also helped Sage identify what products the food co-op should be selling.

Sage set up two weekly fruit and vegetables stalls in the neighbourhood, hosted by St Augustine's Primary School and a local older people's housing project, and a series of healthy eating sessions involving parents and children during the school holidays, as part of a family support project to link other work streams to the Buywell project.

The fruit and vegetable stalls were set up by Sage's Extended Schools Co-ordinator, and are now run and maintained by volunteers. Advice is provided by a community-based nutritionist and family support workers, and the Buywell project officer helped to set up the supply chain and provided training.

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The main outcomes of the project are:

  • Increased funding for nutrition/physical activity projects locally
  • Successful stalls being held regularly
  • Increased volunteering activity

Sage anticipates that future outcomes of the project will include:

  • A quantifiable increase in the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed by those participating in the project
  • Increase in skills and knowledge of younger people of nutritional issues
  • Increased awareness of importance of diet and physical activity in maintaining good health.
  • Encourage the development of volunteering locally

Existing customers of the stall are very enthusiastic, and have enquired about other activities such as cooking groups and healthy eating advice.

Sage is working toward sustainability by encouraging and supporting volunteers to manage and run the stall on a day-to-day basis. An additional school has expressed an interest in a healthy tuck shop that they will set up, manage and run themselves.

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As the project is relatively new, only basic monitoring has been carried out. The co-op has an average of 25 users per week, buying fresh fruit and vegetables for their families.

The main challenges were how to manage the monitoring requirements while encouraging people to buy fruit and vegetables. For example, people were sometimes reluctant to give details such as their postcode or numbers of children in their family while being served. Sage is currently looking at the feasibility of a reward card scheme that will enable them to log people's details when they first purchase from the stall.

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  • Healthy eating is of interest to parents in deprived areas and should be encouraged as an integral part of school policy, e.g. healthy tuck shops
  • An extended run-in period will help encourage longer-term sustainability, i.e. it's a good idea to take the time to build up a relationship with schools and parents before setting up a stall
  • Families living in areas of multiple deprivation may experience multiple barriers to maximising their health and well-being and they need support across a range of issues, not just focused on one thing, e.g. healthy eating, smoking cessation. This is the benefit of Sage running the project as the family support project works with families to improve all aspects of their overall quality of life

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